Feds get tough on auto emissions

OTTAWA — New cars and light trucks will be subject to stringent new rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency — while adding to the sticker price — the federal government announced Thursday.

OTTAWA — New cars and light trucks will be subject to stringent new rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency — while adding to the sticker price — the federal government announced Thursday.

The new regulations are the culmination of a year-long process to create a continental emissions standard and likely sets a precedent for future Canada-U.S. collaboration on global climate change.

The new tailpipe standards, which start taking effect in 2011, will require automakers to produce vehicles that improve fuel efficiency by 40 per cent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent in six years.

In Canada, it means any individual automaker’s fleet must achieve 6.6 litres of gas consumption per 100 kilometres, the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon in U.S. measurements.

“Clearly, any significant strategy to address greenhouse gases and pollution must take serious action to address road-vehicle emissions and that is exactly what we are dong today,” said Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

“Picture a new fleet of cars and light trucks coming off the assembly line in 2016, compared to the same fleet in 2008; those new vehicles would generate 25 per cent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions.”

The changes to auto production will be costly, more than $1,000 per vehicle on average, according to the U.S. government.

But Prentice said the fuel savings, once fully implemented, will offset the added cost in about 18 months.

Industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers was skeptical, both on how much drivers can save on fuel and whether the ambitious targets can be met.

In an analysis, he noted the “low hanging fruit” that has increased fuel efficiency so far — such as light weight materials, better design, and the move to smaller vehicles by the majority of Canadians — has already happened. Achieving significantly more efficiencies will be difficult.

“We have been tracking the sales-weighted fuel efficiency of vehicles in Canada for 28 years (and) in those 28 years fuel efficiency has improved by 12 per cent,” he said.

“Now tell me how is it that the fuel efficiency of the average new vehicle sold in Canada will improve by 40 per cent in six years?”

There was no such skepticism from the auto industry, however.

Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association president Mark Nantais called the standards “tough,” but praised Ottawa for falling in line with the U.S. in establishing uniform rules.

Ford Canada president David Mondragon said the continental approach removes concerns that individual jurisdictions will apply different rules.

Small-volume automakers like Ferrari and Porsche that can not meet the standards will be penalized by having to buy credits from other automakers.

Prentice said the new standards would help meet Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, noting that transportation represents more than one quarter of all GHGs in Canada.

And he said it makes sense for Canada to keep co-ordinating with the U.S. on all aspects of climate change policy.

Later in the year, the two countries will announce a united approach to dealing with heavy trucks. Also, they have established working groups on others forms of transportation, like ships and trains.

“We continue to believe we will work with the United States on regulating emissions and it is essential we do this on a continental basis,” Prentice said.

NDP environment critic Linda Duncan said she had no problem with a continental approach, but added: “Can’t we for once step up to the plate and be the first one?”

It is not clear what the announcement means for the Quebec government’s policy of striking out on its own with standards that would comply with California’s proposals, which are similar to the new continental rules but not identical.

Prentice said since the state has signed on to new national policy, effectively unique California standards “no longer exist.”

The reaction of environmentalists was mostly positive.

Pollution Probe executive director Bob Oliver called the measures a “substantial move forward” because it marks the first time greenhouse-gas emissions will be subject to specific regulation.

The Pembina Institute said the regulations would help reduce transportation emissions, but noted that because Canada’s fleet of vehicles are already more efficient than those in the U.S., they won’t begin reducing emissions here before 2012.